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Sundance 2019 Film Review: “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” (2019) ★★★★★



© 2018 – Sundance Institute

Why does someone think that he or she has the right to claim someone’s life? Why should we all live in the fear that the person who just gave us the most joyful smile can be a serial killer? It took me a week just to gather my thoughts in order to write about Sundance’s most demanding film called “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” based on Liz Kendall’s memoir and the chronicle of crimes that lead Ted Bundy to get arrested and a decade later executed for crimes committed in six states and thirty lives he, sadly, succeeded to take in the most shocking way.

The film follows a notorious serial killer who used his indescribable charming look, Ted Bundy, to fool young women, rape them, and kill afterward. The story is offered through the perspective of Ted Bundy’s (Zac Efron) long-time girlfriend, Liz (Lily Collins), how she met him, what happened in between, and her way of dealing with the insanity brought up by the charges against the man who she deeply loved, and dealing for a decade with the fact that while he was not at home, he was busy killing women. And how she finally found the strength to accept who he really was.

When the film starts, we find Liz Kendall in a prison’s waiting room, waiting for Ted Bundy to appear. “I loved you the moment I saw you,” Ted says to Liz after picking up the phone. Then, we are taken back to 1969, in Seattle, the exact moment when Ted meets Liz, how they bond, become closer, happy, and ready to build a new life together. We already learn about Liz being a single mother, who seems in Ted has found the man of her dreams – handsome, with a great sense of humor, and a law school student with a future that could not get any brighter.

Because the film is shot from the survivor’s perspective, it helps to shape Ted Bundy’s personality as an evil genius who felt was smart enough to beat the justice system. Even when he was firing one lawyer after another, Bundy’s personality, no matter how joyful he would appear with the look of a trustworthy man, makes no mistake through Zac Efron’s amazingly transformative performance. The man who’s a textbook serial killer never appears as an angel or glorified in Joe Berlinger’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”.

There were lots of discussions about why Zac Efron was chosen to play Ted Bundy or why Ted Bundy was captured as such a crowd-pleasing person. The ones who says that clearly know nothing about the nature of the story, who Ted Bundy was, his looks, and how he managed to gain trust from his soon-to-become victims. Zac Efron as Ted Bundy delivers the most chilling and a career-defining performance. How scary he was as a serial killer, manipulative, and glorious is an exact fact we need to be prepared for in the real world.

As the story unfolds, the viewers find themselves going back-and-forth through flashbacks that help to understand Liz, her point of view, and the most courageous step she has taken, even if that step could have costed her happiness and prosperity. Lily Colling as Liz was heartbreaking, influencing, and inspiring. She helps us to see Ted Bundy not as a human being, but as someone who had the shape of a human, but on the inside was just an animal. As you watch it, many other questions will come to your mind, and one of them will be how lucky she was to not get killed by him, and how he ended up not doing the same thing to her that he did to all other women.

In conclusion, written by Michael Werwie, “Extremely Wicked” is that type of a film that you will hate missing. Direction, cinematography, dark tones, mesmerizing performances, and even the score will put Berlinger’s film on the pedestal of the serial killer genre in a way that it will take decades to beat it. This is one of those films that manages not to glorify the serial killer, and in fact, makes them look even worse. Because, as Aristotle said, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst,” which fits well into Ted Bundy’s personality superbly portrayed in Berlinger’s pure masterpiece.

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